Thyroid lumps are growths made of thyroid cells in the thyroid gland. They are either solid or fluid-filled lumps. Most of the time, thyroid lumps are benign and do not present any symptoms. In rare cases, thyroid lumps are cancerous but symptoms do not appear until much later.
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ located at the base of the neck. As part of the endocrine system in your body, it is responsible for regulating bodily functions such as brain development and metabolic and heart rate.
Thyroid lumps are a common occurrence in Singapore and can affect up to 60% of Singaporeans. They are typically caused by an overgrowth of thyroid tissue. 95% of thyroid lumps will turn out to be benign. Thyroid lumps might also occur due to diseases that run in the family such as thyroid cancer.
Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are conditions that affect the thyroid gland. While hyperthyroidism is used to refer to an overactive thyroid, an under-active thyroid leads to hypothyroidism. Hyperthyroidism can cause inflammation which leads to thyroid lumps.
Thyroid lumps usually do not cause pain. Symptoms do not present until the lump becomes quite large and noticeable at more than 4cm in diameter. In these cases, they can cause discomfort and prevent you from swallowing food properly or even speaking clearly.
You may feel a tightness in your neck if the thyroid lump is pressing on your esophagus. The thyroid gland is located near the larynx, causing thyroid lumps to become prominent near the Adam’s apple area. Thyroid lumps may also cause you to experience a tickling sensation in your throat which leads to dry coughing. While this may not be painful, it can cause irritation and a general feeling of hoarseness.
When thyroid cancer is involved, this hoarseness can be due to the disease invading the nerve that takes charge of your vocal cords. However, only a small percentage of thyroid lumps will turn out to be cancerous.
Patients with a history of cancer in Singapore are at risk of suffering from thyroid lumps. This is also likely the case for those whose family members have suffered from thyroid cancer or other endocrine cancers.
Those who have had exposure to diagnostic x-rays and radiation treatments via therapy machines are also at risk of developing thyroid lumps. This is because the thyroid cells will absorb the radioactive atoms leading to complications within the thyroid gland. Children in Singapore are also at a higher risk of developing thyroid lumps if they have undergone these procedures at a young age.
Thyroid disease could also be a risk factor for the development of thyroid lumps. Due to inflammation of the thyroid as a result of conditions such as hyperthyroidism, smaller lumps can become enlarged enough to be a cause for concern.
Singaporean women are also more likely to develop thyroid lumps as compared to men. While it is dependent on age and other factors, women are at a higher risk of developing thyroid cancer.
Thyroid lumps are diagnosed during a medical examination where your doctor will feel your neck for any signs of swelling or a mass in your neck. They may also be discovered during a routine exam for another head and neck condition.
It is important to let your doctor know of any symptoms you are experiencing, such as having difficulty swallowing or a feeling of tightness or ticklishness that does not go away. Letting your doctor know of your medical history and of any family history of endocrine cancers will also help you reach the right diagnosis. If you and your doctor are concerned, a biopsy test will be performed to collect tissue from the thyroid lump and examine it for any cancerous cells.
Thyroid lumps also appear on MRI, CT and ultrasound scans as either fluid or solid bumps. When detected in this way, they are usually smaller in size than thyroid lumps that are found during a physical examination. However, thyroid lumps that are solid are more likely to be cancerous.
Thyroid lumps can be treated in Singapore through surgery. This is the case especially if they have become big enough to affect daily activities. Usually, thyroid lumps that are small in size can simply be observed to check if they grow over time.
In the case of thyroid cancer, a partial or complete thyroidectomy must be performed to prevent the spread of cancer. This surgery removes the entire thyroid gland. Radioactive iodine (RAI) will also be administered to complete the treatment and eliminate the cancer cells.